UMass hockey: Minutemen limit high-powered Denver attack in NCAA Tournament opening round loss

UMass forward Liam Gorman (20) knocks in a shot past Denver goalie Matt Davis to score in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Liam Gorman (20) knocks in a shot past Denver goalie Matt Davis to score in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Liam Gorman (20) knocks in a shot past Denver goalie Matt Davis to score in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Liam Gorman (20) knocks in a shot past Denver goalie Matt Davis to score in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass players and fans celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass players and fans celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass players and fans celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass players and fans celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass players celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass players celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass players celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass players celebrate after a goal by Liam Gorman (20) against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass defender Scott Morrow (23) fires a shot against Denver during double overtime of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass defender Scott Morrow (23) fires a shot against Denver during double overtime of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass defender Aaron Bohlinger (25) fires a shot against Denver during double overtime of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass defender Aaron Bohlinger (25) fires a shot against Denver during double overtime of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Lucas Mercuri (11) fires a shot past Denver defender Rieger Lorenz (14) in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Lucas Mercuri (11) fires a shot past Denver defender Rieger Lorenz (14) in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Liam Gorman (20) fights for the puck in front of the net against Denver during overtime of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Liam Gorman (20) fights for the puck in front of the net against Denver during overtime of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Aydar Suniev (16) fights for possession against Denver defenseman Sean Behrens (2) in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Aydar Suniev (16) fights for possession against Denver defenseman Sean Behrens (2) in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Cole O'Hara (19) maneuvers the puck against Denver in the first period  of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Cole O'Hara (19) maneuvers the puck against Denver in the first period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Members of the UMass band cheer in the second period against Denver during the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

Members of the UMass band cheer in the second period against Denver during the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass defender Aaron Bohlinger (25) fights for the puck against Denver’s Carter King (15) in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass defender Aaron Bohlinger (25) fights for the puck against Denver’s Carter King (15) in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass players embrace after their 2-1 double-overtime loss against Denver in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass players embrace after their 2-1 double-overtime loss against Denver in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Aydar Suniev (16) maneuvers the puck under pressure from Denver defenseman Shai Buium (8) in the first period of overtime during the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Aydar Suniev (16) maneuvers the puck under pressure from Denver defenseman Shai Buium (8) in the first period of overtime during the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Cole O'Hara (19) fires a shot against Denver in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Cole O'Hara (19) fires a shot against Denver in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Lucas Vanroboys (12) faces off against Denver’s Aidan Thompson (7) in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Lucas Vanroboys (12) faces off against Denver’s Aidan Thompson (7) in the third period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass players face off against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass players face off against Denver in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Kenny Connors (17) fires a shot past Denver’s Sean Behrens (2) in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

UMass forward Kenny Connors (17) fires a shot past Denver’s Sean Behrens (2) in the second period of the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-28-2024 7:23 PM

Modified: 03-28-2024 11:18 PM


SPRINGFIELD — Entering Thursday afternoon’s NCAA tournament regional game, the UMass hockey team was well aware of the task at hand battling the No. 3 team in the country, Denver, and its No. 1 ranked scoring offense in the nation.

The Minutemen held the Pioneers to more than half of their nearly five goals-per-game average, and did it in nearly 100 minutes of hockey.

As has been the case with a lot of UMass games with Denver, overtime was on the docket with the score deadlocked at one through three periods. Pioneers center Tristan Broz fired home the game-winning goal over the shoulder of Minutemen goalie Michael Hrabal to decide the game a little over midway through the second overtime period.

Although UMass ended up on the wrong side of a heartbreaking 2-1 finish, it was evident in front of a packed MassMutual Center in Springfield – a maroon-littered crowd on hand – the Minutemen put forth one of their best defensive efforts of the season.

On the heels of an 8-1 beatdown from Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals, UMass certainly came ready to play – and were the aggressor in an extremely physical 92 minutes and 38 seconds of hockey.

“Especially after last weekend, with Boston College who’s another high-powered offensive team, we just had to stick to our foundation and our identity,” junior captain and defenseman Ryan Ufko said. “We know that we’re a big, fast team, so that physicality part was something that we really preached and I feel like that really helped us.”

The game’s length was good for the sixth longest in the history of a regional, with the total of 90 shots on goal between the two teams (47 from UMass, 43 from Denver) standing as the fifth most ever in a regional.

It truly was a marathon, not a sprint, and Denver hadn’t had to play that way all season – according to head coach David Carle.

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“That’s our first 2-1 game, either way, the whole year,” Carle said. “We knew that we’d have to face a game like this… You get to this time of year, everyone’s a great team. Inside ice is hard to come by, goals are hard to come by. I thought both teams were pushing the limit tonight, and obviously the game could’ve gone either way.”

During Wednesday’s media availability, Minutemen head coach Greg Carvel expressed that he expected his team to be ready to go – using last weekend’s Boston College result as motivation.

Carvel said “I don’t know how you don’t bring your best game,” referring to tournament time. Well, if there was on person who listened, it was goalie Michael Hrabal. The freshman was essentially impenetrable throughout the game, stopping 41 shots on 43 attempts.

He was the main reason the juggernaut Denver offense was held well below its scoring average of 4.85 goals per game.

“Anybody who asked me about my feelings [on the game], I said, ‘It’s up to the goalie. I think we’ll be there and we’re gonna play hard. If we get saves, we got a good chance.’ And then Michael did that tonight. I give him a lot of credit. He’s a high profile, high draft pick, but he was 18 years old when he stepped on campus. There aren’t many 18 year olds out there… He grew this year. He had some ups and downs. The BC game being a down. For him to jump back and give us such a backbone tonight – he made some huge saves. I’ll be happy to have him back next year.”

Last year, UMass won 13 games and wasn’t close to considered for the NCAA tournament. Carvel and Co. turned things around rapidly in 2024, taking just the one year off before making a return to the big stage.

There was debate whether the Minutemen deserved to be in the tournament – let alone 20 minutes from their home rink – considering their body of work. But on Thursday, their stellar defense and pure physicality proved to that they didn’t deserve a chance, but also that they belonged.

“I’m extremely proud of what our whole program did this year just to work our way back to the tournament and how we showed ourselves tonight,” Carvel said. “It’s tough to lose, but to me it puts a period on what’s been a successful season.”